1 Corinthians 13:13
And now stays faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
I. CHARITY IS THE LOVE OF GOD FOR HIMSELF ABOVE ALL THINGS, AND OF MAN FOR GOD AND IN GOD. It shows itself in outward acts of love to man, or labour for God. Acts of love strengthen the inward fire of love; and love, which puts itself not forth in deeds of love, would go out, as fire without fuel; but they do not first light it. In God, Love is Himself, and God who is Love, giveth His Spirit who is Love, to pour abroad love into our hearts. Love then is the source and end of all good. Without it, nothing avails; with it, thou hast all things. "Love," says St. Laurence, "is the beginning of all good, because it is from God, and moves to Him. Love is the means of all good, for it is according to God, and fashioneth our deeds aright. Love is also the end of all good; for it is for the sake of God, and directeth our works, and bringeth them to the right end. It is the end of sins, because it destroyeth them; the end of the commandments, because it perfecteth them; it is the end of all our toils, the end of all ends to us, for our rest is in life everlasting, but God is the end in whom we rest."
II. WHENCE HATH LOVE ITS BIRTH? In the infinite love of God, charity is greater than faith and hope and any other grace, because it has its source in that which God is. Hence then it is love which gives the value to all deeds of faith, or devotion, or toil, or love, or martyrdom; because love is of God, and refers all to God. Noble self-denying deeds may be for man's praise or in self-complacency; chastity may be proud; alms-giving, vain-glorious. Active service may be its own reward; death itself may be undergone amid obstinacy. Love hath no end but God, seeketh nothing but Himself for Himself. All virtues are but forms of love, for she is the soul of all. "Temperance," says , "is love, keeping itself pure and undefiled for God. Fortitude is love, readily enduring all things for the sake of God. Justice is love which serveth God alone, and so hath command over all things subject to man. Prudence is love, distinguishing what helpeth it towards God, from what hindereth it"; or, "Love, kindled with entire holiness towards God, when it coveteth nothing out of God, is called temperance; when it willingly parteth with all, is called fortitude." The worldly, careless, covetous, hard-hearted, the lovers of pleasure, cannot love God, but neither do they desire to love Him.
III. HOLY MEN HAVE DISTINGUISHED FOUR STAGES OF LOVE.
1. The first state of fallen man is, alas! to "love himself for himself." In this state, he rather fears God than loves Him.
2. Yet man needs God; and so he begins by faith to seek after and love God, because he needs Him. And so he is brought to a second stage of love, to love God for man's own sake. Much as a man might value the sun, because it warms him and ripens his corn, so man makes himself his centre, and loves God because he needs Him. Yet God so humbleth Himself, that He willeth even thus to be loved. Nay, He has therefore surrounded us with the blessings of nature, that all things around us may teach us to love God, because He made them "very good." Yet in some such way might a heathen love. It is a Christian form of this love of God for man's own sake, if a man loves Him, because He has redeemed him, because, without Him, he cannot be saved, and he hopes to be saved by Him.
3. Next God becomes known to the soul, and consequently sweet to it; and so, having "tasted that the Lord is good," he passes to the third degree, and loves God for His own sake. Yet even in beginning to love God for His own sake, there is a snare lest men should love God for sensible sweetnesses and the consolations which, when He sees good, He gives in prayer or the Holy Sacrament; and so He often withdraws these comforts, and leaves the soul in darkness, after showing her His light, and in dryness, after having bathed her in His sweetness, that He may prove the soul that she follows Him, not for the loaves and fishes, but for love of Himself alone. This is a pure chaste love, which loves God not for any gifts of His, not even for everlasting bliss as His gift. Pure love would not be contented with all the glories and brightness and beauty of heaven itself: it stops short of nothing, it could be satisfied with nothing, but the love of God Himself. It loves God "because He is good "; and so it loves the will of God, and becomes conformed to it, and wills, or wills not, not for its own pleasure, but for the will of God.
4. And so the soul is formed towards that last stage of love, of which, blessed are they who have for a moment some faint glimpse in this life, but which is life eternal, that man should love himself only for the sake of God. In this the soul, borne out of itself with Divine love, losing itself in a manner, as though it were not, emptied of itself, "goeth forth wholly into God, and cleaving to God, becometh one spirit with Him, so that it may say, 'My flesh and my heart faileth, but Thou art the God of my heart and God my portion for ever.'" For since God is the centre of all things, so the soul, when perfected, must will to be nothing but what God wills; to be, only that He may live in it; to be dissolved, as it were, and wholly transfused into the will of God. Of these stages of love, the love of God only for one's own sake, is blessed as a step towards that which is better; yet there is much danger lest, if God gives a man not what he wills, or what he wills not, he should lose what love he seemed to have. Thus people have become embittered or impatient through misfortunes, as though God had dealt hardly with them, and have thrown off the love of God.
IV. HOW, THEN, ARE WE TO KNOW WHETHER WE HAVE LOVE; HOW GAIN IT? The tests whereby we may know whether we have this love of God for Himself are also the means of gaining it, or of increasing it. How is it with those whom you dearly love on earth? Be this the proof of your love of God.
1. You gladly think of them, when absent. You are glad to turn from converse with others, to speak with them. One word or look of theirs is sweeter than all which is not they.
2. You are glad to hear of those you love; you are glad when others speak good of them.
3. You love anything which belongs to them
4. You gladly suffer for them.
5. You have no other will than theirs.
6. You are jealous for their honour.
7. For their sake you value not any outward things which others prize.
8. You do all things for their sake and count nothing too little, nothing too great to do for them. Conclusion: Faint not, any who would love Jesus, if ye find yourselves yet far short of what He Himself who is love saith of the love of Him. Perfect love is heaven. When ye are perfected in love, your work on earth is done. There is no short road to heaven or to love.Do what in thee lies by the grace of God, and He will lead thee from strength to strength, and grace to grace, and love to love.
1. Be diligent by His grace to do no wilful sin; for sin, wilfully done, kills the soul, and casts out of it the love of God.
2. Seek to love nothing out of God. God re-makes a broken heart and fills it with love. He cannot fill a divided heart.
3. Think often of God. For how canst thou know or love God if thou fillest thy mind with thoughts of all things under the sun, and thy thoughts wander to the ends of the earth, and thou gatherest them not unto God?
4. Bring all things, as thou mayest, nigh to God; let not them hurry thee away from Him.
5. Be not held back by any thought of unworthiness or by failures from the childlike love of God.
6. Be diligent, after thy power, to do deeds of love. Think nothing too little, nothing too low, to do lovingly for the sake of God. Bear with infirmities, ungentle tempers, contradictions; visit the sick, relieve the poor, etc.
7. Where, above all, shouldest thou seek for His love but in the feast of His love? Without it, ye cannot have any true love.
(E. B. Pusey, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.